Halloween Harvest 2011 --- Island Of Lost Souls --- Part One
Island Of Lost Souls might as well have been London After Midnight for limited access viewers had in syndication days, being one many fans wouldn't see until VHS and laser discs brought it into homes. Rarity's reason was less station embargos (though a few locals may have been scared off by it) than Island's placement among all-or-none packaging of Paramount oldies leased by MCA with the pre-48 group's sale to television in April 1958. You could buy per picture at prices considerably upped in that event, though by the mid-sixties, broadcasters were more for transitioning out of mostly B/W fare this 700 title load contained. 1966 found ninety-six TV markets playing pre-48 Paramount in whole or part, our Channel 8 out of High Point, NC being among those blessed ...
Getting Island Of Lost Souls twice or so a year was rare privilege Irecognized even then, later confirmed by friends grown up in deprived locales where the legendary chiller never showed up. Our Island tour-guide was Shock Theatre's Count Shockula, later Dr. Paul Bearer (both station employee Dick Bennick), his contribution helping to keep the Shock flag flying for near-twenty years. Now that I'm again in footie pajama mode, I'll pass along sad account of friend Brick Davis and how he missed Island Of Lost Souls one Saturday night in 1968.
We'd oft-talk on the phone up to Shock Theatre's 11:30 start point, this occasion a special one because after all, it wasIsland Of Lost Souls, and we'd only seen it three or so times up to then. Right at the moment of flipping the dial, however, Brick's father arrived home from a customary sixteen-hour work day and announced they'd be watching Robert Wagner in White Feather instead, his argument being, why look at a black-and-white show on a recently acquired color set? Sound enough logic in 1968, but no comfort to Brick, who'd lost his Island fix for that year.
So now there is Island Of Lost Souls on Blu-Ray, happily cleaned up to a best possible look. For all said effort and higher definition, I'd say this is worth our long wait, Souls maybe last of the truly great horror arrivals to DVD. Much of monsters we revisit amount to sentimental journeying and letdown that follows. I watch a Night Monster or Mummy's Ghost now for what they meant to me then. Not so with Island Of Lost Souls, a bell-ringer that if anything gains power since Channel 8 stay-upping. I've looked at Criterion's rendering twice so far, the encore with Greg Mank's fabulous audio commentary (he really is the master at doing these).
Island Of Lost Souls has always had an almost-contraband reputation in scare circles, heavy hand of local and sometimes (other) country censorship banning it altogether or reducing footage down to what more resembled a short subject. Trade digging reveals Island coming late to horror's first big splurge. A month before release, Paramounttried to distance it from chiller classification, according to Variety's Inside Stuff column: Admittedly a horror picture, Paramount is trying to find a selling angle for Island Of Lost Souls that will eliminate reference to it as such. With the cycle of blood and thunder deemed passed, studio is afraid Lost Souls will do a dive unless the creepy angle is eliminated.
The way to that objective was emphasis on what from summer 1932, and prior to Island's production, would be the film's top selling angle, "The Panther Woman." An entranced public's question became, Who Will She Be? You could call Para's a tacky dress rehearsal for filmdom's later quest for Scarlett O'Hara, as no fewer femmes sought this exotic part than would later queue for GWTWtry-outs. It was maybe less the part than hope of cracking Hollywood and most valued prize to Depression-folk, a steady paycheck. Theatres across the country goosed attendance by parading contestants across stages and running so-called "screen-test" footage before their feature program.
The scheme was helped in no small way by Paramount's assigning demon publicist Arthur Mayer the job of ginning up Panther Woman excitement. Mayer was the genius of horror exploitation whose Rialto Theatreon Broadway would be opening site for nearly all mid-30's to 40's horror flix forthcoming. He'd write about the Panther Woman in his 1953 memoir, Merely Colossal, the promotion of which ended in a dog fall, according to Mayer, because "the picture proved a resounding dud." Winner Kathleen Burke and several runners-up were trade-tabbed "Panther Girls" or Women, depending on moods of the moment. Neither designation got respect. Lona Andre and Gail Patrick were used in Paramount's western, The Mysterious Rider, wherein, according to Variety, Miss Andre emerges a ga-ga, eye-rolling ingénue much in need of dramatic training. So far as industry wags were concerned, these Panther Girl also-runs were just so much counterfeit currency. They'd all be let go by Paramount, Kathleen Burke's pink slip issued December 1933 (though she'd be back, as a free lance, for a support part in Lives Of A Bengal Lancer).